Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wills and Obama & Afghanistan

I just read a new NYRB blog entry by Garry Wills really laying into President Obama for Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. The piece is painful to read. I fear greatly that Wills is correct in thinking that further efforts in Afghanistan will remain futile, wasting lives and resources. However, most troubling, is the sense of betrayal. To some extent I'm not sympathetic, in that Obama emphasized the need to take care of business in Afghanistan during the campaign. Yet, the situation only looks worse and worse. Worse yet, Wills reaction—and he's certainly not alone in this— looks like a reaction that could divide Obama supporters and give an opening to the Right—and the only Right remaining is the kooky right. Thoughts of LBJ and Viet Nam haunt me and many like me. This is not good. I will give Obama the benefit of the doubt, hoping that my fears will not be realized and that we will be on track to leave sooner rather than later, with a minimal loss of life. At this point, I can only hope. I cannot pull the plug on supporting Obama, his intentions and abilities are not those of Bush, but I do fear. I do fear.


one hungry panda said...

I also read that NYRB entry by Wills this morning but I disagreed with him. As you well know, I was originally a Hillary supporter and not an Obama supporter so I never attached any special mystique of magical change to his administration so perhaps I don't feel so "betrayed." Although the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are both troubling and I have personally disagreed with them from the beginning, I didn't have such false expectations that Obama would act differently from any other politician in his position. The office shapes the politician. Another interesting insight is that you and many of your generation analogize these wars to the Vietnam War. I'm not saying whether or not this is incorrect but I happened to be reading an article today for International Relations by Yuen Foong Khong called "The Lesson of Korea and the Vietnam Decisions of 1956." It's a very interesting article that argues that decision makers of the 1960s were analogizing Vietnam to Korea and that this imperfect analogizing led to some poor decision making. I suspect that the analogy of Vietnam for the Iraq War may be similarly imperfect yet analogies are the way human being cognitively make sense of new information. We may have to think more outside the box on this one.

Stephen N. Greenleaf, Esq. said...

1HP: I, too, was not originally an Obama supporter (enough said), and I don't believe that any politician will turn the ship of state on a dime. Indeed, Wills himself, a number of years ago, wrote an article distinguishing "prophets" and "politicians". Prophets, such as MLK, can promote radical change; politicians won't because they must always be careful not to get too far ahead of public opinion. That being said, it should also be noted that Obama always made clear that he thought Afghanistan should be our priority.

You're right about Viet Nam: it can only serve as an analogy, and the wisdom in using analogies comes in knowing the distinctions as well as the similarities. Munich, Pearl Harbor, the "loss" of China, for examples,guided much of the Johnson's and McNamara's thinking, even as they realized the dire straights they were in. One tragedy of Viet Nam arose from the inability of Johnson and McNamara to extricate the U.S. from the quagmire it became when they knew it would have been right to do so. Could Obama become trapped in the same vice of circumstances and expectations? I hear congressman and senators and military leaders talking about "winning", as if it were a straight-forward thing, as in 1945. This is not 1945, and the Taliban and Al Queda will not disappear by 2011, even under a best case outcome.

Finally, our we just the latest "great power" to waste human life and wealth trying to control Afghanistan? Imperial decline should provide us a major worry. Are we willing to pay the price for all of these foreign adventures other than via the lives of Americans (which is a great and terrible price in itself). Are we willing to tax ourselves to pay for these wars? My hope is that Obama's gamble proves justified; by my fears lie with Wills.